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From the archives: Irish birth mom holds answers

This story was originally published in Newsday on March 7, 2004.

Advertising executive Christopher Quirin has to look no further than his green-eyed 10-year-old daughter Meaghan to know why he needs to find his Irish birth mom.

Born with juvenile arthritis, Meaghan underwent aggressive treatment to bring her ailment under control, said Quirin.

Now, she is as active as any child her age - playing soccer and lacrosse, skating and dancing.

Still, knowing her illness has a genetic component has made it all the more urgent for Quirin, 53, to find out his own roots.

"Every time you are asked for a family medical history you are basically unable to give an answer, you have no history," Quirin said.

Quirin, who lives with his wife Patrice and their young daughter and son in Manhasset on Long Island, is among an estimated 2,000 people born out of wedlock in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s and sent to the United States for adoption. While the youngsters arrived to new lives, many of the birth mothers left behind were relegated to lives of harsh work and loneliness. Their plight was depicted in the 2002 movie, "The Magdalene Sisters."

Now adults, many of the adopted children are searching for their elderly moms.

"It kind of came full circle for us after Meaghan had a disease that had a genetic trail to it," said Quirin, who resented the fact that he didn't have access to the kind of family medical history that many others have. Quirin and his wife also have a son, Ryan, 8, who is healthy.

Experts agree that knowing family medical history can be very important.

"It is a very useful thing, yes," said Dr. Sandro Galea, a medical epidemiologist with the New York Academy of Medicine, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the public through research, education and advocacy. Galea said that knowledge of such history helps a person assess the risks for illnesses such as heart disease, cystic fibrosis and certain kinds of cancers.

Quirin knows the identity of the Irish woman who gave birth to him at Sean Ross Abbey, a former home for unwed mothers in Roscrea, a town in central Ireland, on Christmas Day 1950.

He said he has spent a lot of time and money, including payments to search services in the U.S., trying in vain to find her.

In 1995 he wrote to Sister Mary Sarto, a nun in Cork who maintains a lot of the adoption records from homes like Sean Ross Abbey.

Sarto wrote and confirmed the basic information on the birth certificate and included the fact that his mother gave birth at the age of 20 and left Sean Ross in September 1954, said Quirin. That was right around the time her son was flown to the United States for adoption.

Quirin said Sarto agreed to try to contact the birth mom to ask whether she wanted to meet her son. But he said he has not heard back. There was no assurance the Abbey even had an accurate address.

"What does she have to lose?" Quirin asked about his birth mother. "If not [a meeting] a simple note back saying, 'I am not interested.'"

Like many other Irish adoptees,Quirin said he had a good childhood in New Jersey. A Vietnam veteran, Quirin is a director of business development for Millennium Sales & Marketing in midtown Manhattan.

Though he'd certainly like to meet his mother, his search is driven more by his family's health issues than anything.

"I don't need a hug from a 73-year-old woman to make me feel all right," he said.

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